The Finland House, New York, 1947 by Paavo Tynell

 

One of the most ambitious and successful projects of all time to showcase Finnish design on an international level was The Finland House in New York. This gallery-showroom, restaurant and office complex was established on behalf of the Finnish American Trading Corporation in 1947 and located right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan (murray hill) close to the Rockefeller Center and with iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel just around the corner. 

 The Finland House showroom, 39-41 East 50th Street, New York, NY, c.1947.

The Finland House showroom, 39-41 East 50th Street, New York, NY, c.1947.

The Finnish-American Trading Corporation Ltd. (FINATCOL), which was founded partly by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and partly by a few private Finnish export companies, purchased two five-storage French revival styled buildings on the 39 & 41 East 50th Street in 1947. The newly found company wanted to completely renovate the buildings and open it to showcase the best and finest design and culture from Finland. On the first and second floor there would be a gallery-showroom for design and furniture items as well as a restaurant serving well known Finnish dishes with an international twist. The other floors were planned to be used for office purposes by the trading company and its associates. Nothing similar on this scale was never tried before in Finnish export history.

 Matchboxes from the Finland House Restaurant, early 1950s.The other box background with wood imitation, referring to restaurant´s wood panel interior. Private collection.

Matchboxes from the Finland House Restaurant, early 1950s.The other box background with wood imitation, referring to restaurant´s wood panel interior. Private collection.

The renovation of the buildings was designed by an American architect company Magoon & Salo, who were in charge of the basic construction work, facade renovations and the office space interiors. However, for the restaurant and gallery spaces on the first floor Finatcol wanted to use a Finnish architect to give it a special "Finnish touch" with a goal to import all furniture and decoration directly from Finland. Even the obvious choice would have been by then already world-known Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the Finnish American Trading Company hired one of his Aalto´s former assistant and colleague, architect Aarne Ervi. Ervi was by then starting to get wider recognition after designing several notable architecture projects and his successful involvement just a year earlier with a similar large scale interior renovation project for a restaurant in Helsinki, called Kestikartano (see previous post) probably had a significant impact to get the commission in New York.

To give a specific Finnish character to the interior, Ervi decided to use a lot of wood in form of wood panelling on ceilings and partly wood veneered walls, all made of various Finnish wood types. For the showroom and gallery space he planned by purpose an airy interior with relatively few objects to showcase at once, with minimalistic, adjustable glass wall shelves. Originally the showroom was owned by a Finnish traditional jewelry company Kalevala Koru, who on the side of their own products showcased various Finnish industrial art objects of any kind.

 Scale model sketch of the restaurant space by Aarne Ervi.

Scale model sketch of the restaurant space by Aarne Ervi.

 The bar with large custom-made chandeliers by Paavo Tynell, 1947.

The bar with large custom-made chandeliers by Paavo Tynell, 1947.

What it comes to interior details, Aarne Ervi used some of Finland´s best designers at the time for the work. Even Alvar Aalto didn´t design anything directly for this project, Ervi used his iconic plywood chairs and other small furniture from the Artek-collection for the restaurant space. All other furniture were unique and designed by interior architect Ilmari Tapiovaara and manufactured by Keravan Puuteollisuus Oy. Textiles were designed by Greta Skogster-Lehtinen and hand-made by her own company. Helvi Mether-Borgström and Lasse Ollinkari contributed also as interior designers on behalf of Ervi´s company.

 The upper restaurant balcony with custom-made furniture by Ilmari Tapiovaara, 1947.

The upper restaurant balcony with custom-made furniture by Ilmari Tapiovaara, 1947.

However, in the focus of all interior was its lighting design. As already several times in the past, Aarne Ervi turned to Paavo Tynell and his company Taito Oy. Aarne Ervi had worked several times with Tynell in the past, previously named Restaurant Kestikartano and Pyhäkoski Power Plant to name a few. The Finland House would become one of their most

Since the space got a limited amount of natural light coming in, Paavo Tynell´s lighting design became even more important. With various big, perforated brass fixtures Tynell created rich, flowing light to the space to simulate natural light and shadows. In addition to lighting pieces, Paavo Tynell also designed various brass items for the space, such as railings and door handles, all unique and in collaboration with Ervi.

 The main restaurant hall, 1947.

The main restaurant hall, 1947.

 The Gallery space with a sales exhibition by Taito Oy, late 1940s.

The Gallery space with a sales exhibition by Taito Oy, late 1940s.

The entire showroom-gallery with its restaurant was an immediate success among American clientele, but the biggest attraction for them was the lighting design. Tynell´s designs were considered unique and fresh compared the American post-war modernism and his designs were praised in several notable publications in the US. 

 Restaurant´s upper balcony, with a view to the gallery space through a glass shelving system.

Restaurant´s upper balcony, with a view to the gallery space through a glass shelving system.

The Finland House was to become the most important channel for Taito Oy (and later Idman-Taito Oy) to showcase their products in USA for an international clientele. In addition to permanent interior and its lighting design, Taito held continuously sale exhibitions at the Finland House gallery. This led to more collaborations with American and international architects as well as consignments from important private clients. All pieces were sold exclusively by the Finland House showroom, who also got numerous distributors across the US.

 The Finland House gallery shop, 1947.

The Finland House gallery shop, 1947.

After almost a decade of productive marketing and trade of Finnish design, the Finnish American Trading Corporation decided to sell the Finland House property in 1957, and it was also decided not to continue running the gallery separately. At the same time in Finland, Idman Oy made a decision to focus entirely on serie produced lamps, something that might had an impact on closing the NY showroom at the end, considering that Tynell lamps were one of their most successful articles. The buildings were demolished shortly after closing the showroom late 1950s.

Due to its uniqueness and high quality, the Finland House remains as a prime example of Finnish interior design. It was a historical collaboration between artists and companies on an international scale and an important platform to present modern post-war Finland.

 The Finland House catalog featuring table lamp model 9202 by Taito Oy.

The Finland House catalog featuring table lamp model 9202 by Taito Oy.

 The Finland House catalog cover, late 1940s, featuring ceiling lamp model nr.9081.

The Finland House catalog cover, late 1940s, featuring ceiling lamp model nr.9081.

 Magazine ad by the Finland House, late 1940s.

Magazine ad by the Finland House, late 1940s.

Restaurant Kestikartano, Helsinki 1946 by Paavo Tynell

Restaurant Kestikartano was an ambitious restaurant project right after the Continuation War (1941-1944), commissioned by Kalevalaisten Naisten Liitto (The Kalevala Women´s Association) to promote Finnish cultural heritage, particularly Kalevala meter folk poetry. Architect Aarne Ervi, who was to become one of the most influential figures of Mid Century Modern Finnish architecture was appointed to design the interior for the restaurant in collaboration with paavo tynell, who was in charge of the lighting design

 Keskuskatu 7, Helsinki, captured in 1931 by Olof Sundström. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

Keskuskatu 7, Helsinki, captured in 1931 by Olof Sundström. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

Restaurant Kestikartano was LOCATED IN A NORDIC CLASSICISM STYLE STONE BUILDING AT KESKUSKATU 7, IN THE HEART OF HELSINKI, which was  designed by architect karl lindahl in 1921.

aarne ervi was already known for his modernist style, but the restaurant kestikartano was going to be something quite different than minimalistic clean lines with concrete and stone. inspired by the great house of pohjola from the kalevala mythology,ervi decided to use extensively wood as a material, particularly finnish pine wood (red wood) and created a traditional finnish log house interior in a grand scale. mainly round, bare logs were used all over the restaurant from floor to ceiling, with only some carvings as decoration. just some of the floor areas were covered with large natural stone slates and Even most of the furniture were made of pine wood, chairs and sofas with hand-woven wool covered paddings. There was another purely financial reason of using wood as well, since it was the only available low-cost material finland could produce by itself after the war.

  Kestikartano matchbox with the restaurant logo from 1948, graphic designer unknown. Private collection.

Kestikartano matchbox with the restaurant logo from 1948, graphic designer unknown. Private collection.

regarding lighting design aarne ervi turned to his friend and colleague  Paavo tynell, with whom he had already worked previously on several occasions. tynell´s own company taito Oy was going to manufacture all pieces, but instead of using standard taito-lamp models he designed custom made lighting fixtures especially for the restaurant. not much of the design process itself is known, but Tynell created numerous designs for the restaurant interior, including everything from ceiling fixtures to floor lamps and spotlights. Some of the designs were later taken into serie production by Taito Oy.

 Restaurant Kestikartano, Main Entrance Hall. Brass wall sconces by Paavo Tynell. Image from a postcard c.1946 published by Kestikartano, Private collection.

Restaurant Kestikartano, Main Entrance Hall. Brass wall sconces by Paavo Tynell. Image from a postcard c.1946 published by Kestikartano, Private collection.

on MATERIALS, TYNELL STAYED WITH HIS FAVOuRITE ones BY USING MAINLY SOLID BRASS, wicker AND wood, but HIGHLIGHTING the last two to accompany ervi´s interior. WICKER WAS USED IN VARIOUS WAYS ON SHADES AND WRAPPINGS while BRASS WAS USED IN ALMOST ALL PIECES. braided wicked shades on pendant lamps and floor lamps created rustic look and warmth to design mixed with polished brass. one of the most impressive pieces that tynell designed for kestikartano were at the "pohjan sali" (main dining room), where MOUNTED rectangular CEILING FIXTURES WITH PERFORATED BRASS shades CREATEd A spectacular "STARRY SKY"-EFFECT by reflecting light upwards. SOME TABLE LAMPS WERE ALSO MADE FROM ALMOST ENTIRELY WOOD WITH bent plywood and aspen SPLINT SHADES, WHICH WAS quite UNUSUAL FOR TYNELl who normally used brass as part of the structure.

  Color photograph from the Restaurant Kestikartano, early 1960s. Waiter wearing   Finnish traditional folk costume.   Ceiling lamp by Tynell with braided wicker shade and brass fittings. Image copyright by Museovirasto.

Color photograph from the Restaurant Kestikartano, early 1960s. Waiter wearing Finnish traditional folk costume. Ceiling lamp by Tynell with braided wicker shade and brass fittings. Image copyright by Museovirasto.

 Resturant Kestikartano, "Pohjan Sali", 1946. Wooden table lamps with wicker shades and brass bases, perforated brass ceiling lamps and ceiling lamps with braided wicker shades. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

Resturant Kestikartano, "Pohjan Sali", 1946. Wooden table lamps with wicker shades and brass bases, perforated brass ceiling lamps and ceiling lamps with braided wicker shades. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

In addition to interior and furniture designed by aarne ervi and lighting design by tynell, famous finnish ceramic factory arabia manufactured custom-made tableware for the restaurant. The main entrance hall ceiling was covered with a large textile work with hand-made pattern, made by the kalevala women´s association. finnish sculptor emil halonen also made a large bronze sculpture standing at the Louhen Piha called "pohjolan emäntä" (1945), also known as louhi. According to the kalevala folk mythology, she was a queen of the land know as pohjola and the epic house with the same name, which were the original source of inspiration for the restaurant.

 Louhen Piha, 1946. Large bronze statue on the left by Finnish sculptor Emil Halonen from 1945, named "Pohjolan Emäntä", also known as Louhi, who was a queen of the land known as Pohjola according to the Kalevala folk mythology. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

Louhen Piha, 1946. Large bronze statue on the left by Finnish sculptor Emil Halonen from 1945, named "Pohjolan Emäntä", also known as Louhi, who was a queen of the land known as Pohjola according to the Kalevala folk mythology. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

 Louhen Piha, c.1950. Photographer unknown, Private collection.

Louhen Piha, c.1950. Photographer unknown, Private collection.

TOGETHER WITH ERVI, PAAVO TYNELL CREATED AN UNIQUE AND IMPORTANT EXAMPLE OF AN EARLY FINNISH MID CENTURY MODERN DESIGN, BY CREATING A MODERN INTERIOR WITH A TRADITIONAL FINNISH FLAVOUR, SOMETHING THAT GOT A GREAT POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE POST-WAR HELSINKI AND EVEN ENTIRE NATION BY USING IT´S OWN HISTORY AS A SOURCE OF INSPIRATION. It was also a proof of high CRAFTSMANship and quality of finnish industrial art, something that finland became especially known for internationally during the 1950s.

  The upper hall, Louhen Piha, 1946. Unusual floor mounted brass floor lamps with wicker wrapping and braided wicker shades. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

The upper hall, Louhen Piha, 1946. Unusual floor mounted brass floor lamps with wicker wrapping and braided wicker shades. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

 Pohjan Sali, 1946. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

Pohjan Sali, 1946. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

THE RESTAURANT KESTIKARTANO WAS ONE OF THE FIRST NOTABLE INTERIOR PROJECTS FOR AARNE ERVI, BUT ALSO AN IMPORTANT ONE FOR TYNELL, CHANGING HIS STYLE TO MORE NATURE INSPIRED AND DECORATIVE DIRECTION COMPARED To tHE PRE-WAR PERIOD WITH PURE FUNCTIONALIST DESIGN LANGUAGE. EVEN THE INTERIOR ITSELF COULD BE NOWADAYS POSSIBLY CONSIDERED TOO LITERAL AND FLAMBOYANT, PAAVO TYNELL´S PIECES FOR THE RESTAURANT COULD EASILY STILL STAND ON THEIR OWN IN A MODERN INTERIOR.

 The upper hall, Louhen Piha, 1946. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

The upper hall, Louhen Piha, 1946. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

  Pohjan Sali, the main dining room, c.1948. Photographer unknown, Private collection.

Pohjan Sali, the main dining room, c.1948. Photographer unknown, Private collection.

The restaurant was very successful from the start and especially during the 1950s and early 1960s by becoming almost like a national monument, a must see place for all tourists visiting helsinki, where TRADITIONAL FINNISH FOOD was served IN AN INSPIRING INTERIOR WITH WAITERS DRESSED IN TRADITIONal FINNISH FOLK COSTUMES.

Unfortunately, in 1965 the property owner decided to replace the old building where kestikartano was located with a new office complex, and so the restaurant was closed in 1967. Most of the interior was demolished after the restaurant closed, but some of the furniture and lighting pieces were saved by private persons and kalevalaisten naisten liitto.

 Brass mounted ceiling lamp (nr.7) with five hanging "cow bells" was originally designed for the Restaurant Kestikartano in 1946. Image from a Taito-Tynell catalog, early 1950s.

Brass mounted ceiling lamp (nr.7) with five hanging "cow bells" was originally designed for the Restaurant Kestikartano in 1946. Image from a Taito-Tynell catalog, early 1950s.

 Postcard by Restaurant Kestikartano, featuring Pohjan Sali, early 1960s. Photographer unknown, Private collection.

Postcard by Restaurant Kestikartano, featuring Pohjan Sali, early 1960s. Photographer unknown, Private collection.

 A view from Pohjan Sali, 1946. Bent plywood and splint shade table lamp, braided wicker pendant lamp with brass fittings. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

A view from Pohjan Sali, 1946. Bent plywood and splint shade table lamp, braided wicker pendant lamp with brass fittings. Image copyright by Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo.

Sources: Kalevalaisten Naisten Liitto, Helsingin Kaupunginmuseo, Aarne Ervi-Tilaa Ihmiselle (Johansson, Lahti, Paatero, 2010).